Norma Jean: “We go through things in life so we can learn from them.”

Vocalist Cory Brandan opens up about the bands deeply personal seventh album, 'Polar Similar'.

Norma Jean: “We go through things in life so we can learn from them.”

By Glen Bushell

Sep 6, 2016 14:01

It's hard to believe that Norma Jean have been a band for nearly 20 years. It feels like just yesterday that the Georgia based metalcore titans blew the world apart with their debut album, ‘Bless The Martyr, Kiss The Child’. “I think one of the main reasons we have stayed relevant and kept our longevity is that we are constantly reinventing ourselves,” states vocalist, Cory Brandan, when asked how the band has remained active for so long. “We are always up for experimenting and trying new things. We don’t want to just make the same record over and over.”

Now, in 2016, the band is preparing to unleash their seventh album, ‘Polar Similar’, and Brandan does not shy away from expressing his excitement about the record. “The entire record kind of more or less tells a story, musically,” he explains. “Although releasing select tracks is really fun, we’re excited for fans to check out the whole thing front to back.”

And so well they should be. ‘Polar Similar’ is once again an evolution for Norma Jean. It’s relentless, it’s cacophonous, and has some of the bands heaviest, most technically proficient work to date. Brandan attests this to the change in method behind the writing of the album. “Usually we write sporadically throughout a year or so till the record is done and then we’ll kind of finalize some things in the studio on the spot by taking a week off to prepare before we even start tracking,” he reflects. “This time, we took the entire summer off to write until it was done and went into the studio fully complete. We basically produced these last two records so we had a pretty set idea that we were looking for. The studio where we tracked was also a huge part of the overall sound and vibe of the record.”

Regardless of the fact that Norma Jean has outlasted many of their peers over the years, and influenced countless bands around the world, Brandan remains modest. “We never let ourselves feel like we are accomplished musicians,” he says, humbly. “There’s always more to learn and grow, as people, as musicians, as song writers in general. We always want to be better and to push ourselves technically and emotionally through a record. We just purposely try to find things we haven’t done before and experiment with them.”

For the album’s release, Norma Jean have returned to the label that released last first four, Solid Sate Records. Brandan enthuses this was a very natural choice when the band became free agents after their deal was up with Razor & Tie. “We had been talking to a few people but when it comes to finding a label, you’re really looking for the right team of people,” he says. “We loved the guys at Solid State Records and what they are doing now. It was a really easy decision for us to make in the end.”

One of the albums that the band released during their initial run with Solid State was the critically acclaimed, ‘O God, The Aftermath’, the first album to feature Brandan on vocals. The band played the album in full while on tour last year, but as fun as it was, Brandan tells us that this has not shaped the view of ‘Polar Similar’. “The tour was just a blast,” he enthuses. “It was fun to dig out the old songs and play songs we’ve never played before. It had no influence at all on the new record, just a fun tour that I’d like to do again with some other records.”

Of course, it is no secret that Norma Jean have had somewhat of a revolving door of members in the course of their history. Brandan is now the longest serving member of the band, and explains while it does shape them in huge creative ways, Norma Jean is more of a collective rather than a standard band set up. “We kind of feel like the idea of a band in the way we view it today was something that a record label invented a long time ago to market music to listeners,” he admits. “Perhaps they said ‘Hey, look at these faces and personalities and attach yourselves to them,’ and I get that, but that’s just not what is important to us. At the end of the day it’s the sound that is being created that’s important. Norma Jean is a collective of musicians where association is flexible and creative direction is shared across a history of friends and family. But, I have been the main songwriter since I joined this band in 2004 so what fans are hearing is still a very large percentage of what Norma Jean has done for 13 years.”

‘Polar Similar’ sounds like a Norma Jean record, but consequently is nothing like their previous output. Of course there are huge, explosive breakdowns, particularly on ‘Everyone Talking Over Everyone Else’, and the low end crunch that provides the back bone for ’10,000 Watts’, but it is far from recycled material. There are sweeping, almost beautiful post-rock passages throughout ‘Reaction’, not to mention the stop/start riffing of ‘An Ocean Of War’, which is straight out of the Helmet school of guitar playing. “I think ‘Polar Similar’ is kind of an anomaly in the rankings of our past records,” says Brandan, when asked how it relates to their back-catalogue. “It’s a somewhat natural progression but it just has a drastic change in feeling than anything we’ve done before. We have grown a pretty great chemistry between (2013 album) ‘Wrongdoers’ to now that really helped push ‘Polar Similar’ to what we were looking for when we started ‘Wrongdoers’. It’s almost like that record was sacrificial to make this one.”

What stands out the most about ‘Polar Similar’ is that this could be one of the most personal album’s Brandan has ever written. Several of the songs deal with an abusive relationship, and he wears his heart on his sleeve throughout. “The record has quite a few songs, not all of them, that deal with abusive relationships from different perspectives,” he opens up. “A couple of them draw from my personal experience and some others deal with other perspectives, even from the perspective of an abuser themselves. I thought it was important to tell the different stories from all the points of view. I think one of the biggest problems with abuse is people just not knowing that they are in that position, or more that it’s complete blinded denial. The song titles that reference nature and the planet are tied to the title of the record and to show that there is a theme throughout.”

Abusive relationships are never an easy thing to deal with, and come in a variety of forms. ‘Polar Similar’ was a cathartic writing experience for Brandan, and he has used this release as a way to move on from the negativity that has shrouded his past. “I have been very disconnected from that part of my life for a while now so now it’s just more that I want to turn the terrible experience into something that is good,” he admits. “I don’t want that part of my life to be wasted on negativity or by trying to medicate it out of myself. We go through things in life so we can learn from them. My hope is that someone gets something out of it and is able to get out and away from a terrible situation that they may not know they are a part of.”

Brandan is now very focused on the future, both personally and professionally. Norma Jean will be heavily touring ‘Polar Similar’ upon its release, and he hopes that rather than find solace or comfort in the record, people can draw from his experiences to move on themselves. “I have a much more ‘kick down the door and get the hell out’ attitude about it,” he defiantly states. “I want people that are currently in a terrible spot to find the strength and will to bust out. Whether it’s an abusive relationship with a partner, drugs, family member etc. The first step is just admitting what it is.”

’Polar Similar’ is released on September 9th through Solid State Records, and is available to pre-order now.